New Zealand charges Samoan woman after in-flight birth

A woman who gave birth aboard an international flight without anyone noticing was charged by New Zealand police today with abandoning the baby after it was found in a toilet rubbish bin.

The unidentified 29-year-old Samoan mother walked off a Pacific Blue flight from Samoa to Auckland last Thursday after apparently giving birth during the flight. Soon afterward, cleaners found the newborn girl still alive amid bloodied paper towels in a toilet bin.

The case made headlines in New Zealand and Samoa and prompted officials to defend check-in procedures.

Police Detective Inspector Mark Gutry said the woman was charged with child abandonment, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, and child assault.

The mother could also face a fine of up to NZ$100,000 and another seven years in prison for allegedly failing to reveal information about her pregnancy, a violation of the country's Immigration Act.

The mother was reported to be returning to New Zealand to work as a kiwi fruit picker when her daughter was born.

She underwent surgery at an Auckland hospital last Thursday after the unaided birth and was later reunited with her baby. State welfare authorities and other agencies were working to determine what long-term arrangements would be best for the baby, state welfare official Marion Heeney said.

Whether the child would be classified as a New Zealand or Samoan citizen still had to be determined.

Gutry said the baby was well and had not suffered significant injuries or long-term effects.

"It's not certain when the mother went into labour, and nobody else was aware that she was in labour prior to the flight," he said.

Later Wednesday, a court ordered the woman to be held in police custody. Her name was not released.